Tuesday, August 02, 2022

For Autura - "Fearless Leader"

I've thought a lot about what I may say in reflection on Autura. I've done some work to acknowledge the feelings I have about her death...her murder. 
I’ve got some. And some are intense. 
In my 58 years, and I believe I'm right about this, Autura is the first person I've known, 
worked with, 
loved, 
 been hugged and kissed by, 
hugged and kissed back,
travelled with, ........ 
who is a victim of homicide. 

Given how many people die by homicide all around me, maybe it's a wonder it hasn't happened sooner. But that reality has contributed to the shock. 
And the anger. 
Well, it's anger now. It was rage. Baby steps. 

I don't need to speak to all that Autura was to the community, to the church. That's been done and will continue to be. I just want to register a couple of things about my relationship with her. 

I first encountered Autura as she was coming through the Board of Ordained Ministry. In those days, I lead the theology group. At that time, to me she was a name on a file, one of several whose work I was charged to evaluate with my team for the purposes of examining her. 

She nailed it. Sound. Complete. 

The star of the class that year. Which is not to say there weren't other very impressive and equally equipped candidates in front of us, but she demonstrated a charisma that was natural to her. 

Charisma. Χάρις. Grace. Yeah, we'll come back to that.  

She was very impressive and demonstrated a readiness to be deployed into the ministry field. I offered her words of affirmation and confirmation. 

“Well coming from you that really means something," she said. 
“Coming from me? What does that mean?” I asked. 
“It means you have a reputation, but that's ok, I see you." 

Now there's a lot to unpack here, and I'll not go into all of it. I've been told I did (do?) have a reputation. I never understood it. But apparently, I was known as a hard ass bordering on perpetually angry if not mean. Unapproachable. There were a couple of souls possessing the gift of being "Johnny whisperers" who could interpret me to the world, and I'm grateful for that. 

I've often said in most recent years that I'm aware of being talked about more than talked to. Looks like that's long been the case. 

With Autura, there was this fearlessness. "I see you." Ask anybody who lives like they haven't been. Being seen is a means of grace. I suspect that was her gift, and that I was one of many often felt unseen that she just could. 

Not long after she was brought into full connection, she was put on the Board of Ordained Ministry, and in 2012, we were elected to be Chair and Vice-Chair. Being the Chair of that body is probably the most significant contribution I was able to make the connection beyond being pastor in a local church. 

We kind of trained each other. Lots of meetings. 

We had to do more than a few hard things. Almost immediately after being in our new roles, I was aware that whenever I called, or she'd call me, or we'd text, she had christened me with a new name-- "Fearless Leader." Not sure where that came from, because some of what we had to do was fear inducing, even though it was absolutely the right thing. I wondered if she was a fan of the old Bullwinkle and Rocky cartoon whose main antagonist carried that name. 

Over time, I came to understand a different meaning to what she called me. It's not that she thought I was a fearless leader. She was encouraging me to lead fearlessly. My last couple of years in that work were not my best. Life was falling apart. I was being crushed by much. We never talked about it, but she had to see it, but her support never wavered, neither did her charge to lead fearlessly. 

Autura became chair after I stood down. She'd call on occasion for clarity and direction. I began to hear that she was discerning a run for the episcopacy. A year after retiring she called and we went for coffee. She wanted to know what I thought, and what I had experienced going through a campaign with Sky. I was moved that she wanted my input. Given the way I left, she could still see me. 

Her death defines tragedy. 

It is a trauma of unimaginable proportions, the impact of which will ripple for a lifetime. 
For her family and friends. 
For the Church. 
For the perpetrators of the crime and their families. 

If only those who killed her understood what it meant to be seen before they shot her. 

My challenge is to try to see them as I know she would have if given the chance. I'm not there yet. I'm not sure if I'll ever be. 

But that's the point, isn't it? 

If Χάρις doesn't apply now, when will it ever? 

In my inner thoughts I hear her laugh….that laugh, uniquely hers, right? And I hear her still challenging me to be what she always was— Fearless Leader. 

Rest easy, sister. 
Well done.

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